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I attend a Conservative / traditional shul. Primarily because of neighborhood demographics (the neighborhood is now largely Orthodox), we have tremendous problems forming a daily minyan. It seems that on weekdays, the main reason a person will regularly attend minyan is if he is mourning or has yahrtzeit for a parent. We almost "joke" that we hope someone's parent will die soon, so that he can help form the minyan.

I've seen this phenomenon occur commonly in other Conservative shuls, and it seems to happen far more in non-Orthodox shuls, from my observation. I've spoken to a few friends in different parts of the U.S. as well as two congregational rabbis, and they have noticed a similar pattern.

"It seems that non-Orthodox people see the importance of the minyan only when there's death, rather than as a part of daily living," remarked one rabbi. I see his point, somewhat. But, I can't explain why that is?

Can anyone explain why only death attracts people to come more regularly to the minyan? Do these people form a sense of "guilt" if they didn't honor their mom or dad by saying Kaddish or hiring someone to say it for them?

closed as primarily opinion-based by mevaqesh, sabbahillel, mbloch, Noach MiFrankfurt, DonielF Jan 11 '18 at 5:46

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    I'll bet that there is sociology literature indicating that religion is especially popular, universally, surrounding death, due to the questions about consciousness that it raises and due to the gaps that people feel as a result – Isaac Moses Jan 12 '16 at 14:36
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It's something like that, based on my observations of my local Reform and Conservative communities. What I notice in particular with the Conservative daily minyan is that there are some regulars, some people who just come to say kaddish, and some people who initially came to say kaddish (for a month or for a year; I don't mean one day) and then stuck around.

I think saying kaddish for a parent is in the same category as having a Pesach seder -- it's a deeply-ingrained thing you do, even if you aren't strongly committed to Judaism. I know secular Jews, atheists, who nonetheless do these things; the ones I've asked about their sedarim cited tradition and culture. I've never asked anybody about kaddish.

If you're trying to strengthen your minyan and are looking for help from people saying kaddish, I recommend focusing on the ones who are in mourning (who are coming every day for a period), and working on making them feel part of the community. Too many people, especially in the liberal movements, see synagogues as providers of consumer services -- I need a place to say Kaddish today, I need a place for my kid's bar mitzvah next year, I need a place for Yom Kippur, etc. So long as they think going to synagogue is only relevant if they need a service, they'll be kaddish-only (or High Holy Day-only, etc) attendees. Once they realize there's something more for them, they might come more often, even when they don't have an immediate "need" like to say kaddish.

Whatever you do, don't try to guilt-trip them. If, on the day they actually showed up, they only hear complaints about how people only come for kaddish and how awful that is, they're not likely to come back on a "regular" day. If, on the other hand, they feel welcomed and comforted, if they start to make friends in the minyan, if people get to know them and -- simple thing here -- greet them by name -- then they just might come to value the community and not just the service.

They might not -- lots don't. But you build a small minyan person by person.

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    Take this as a compliment ... You acted like Yosef. Not only did you answer the question, but you offered unasked for advice, that is REALLY helpful and a nice strategy. We actually have implemented this strategy, and, in a few recent cases, we did "keep" 2 people. They're not consistent, but they show up more than they did before the event. Thanks for the useful advice. And, I know that it comes from someone who has seen similar situations, so you're not speculating. – DanF Jan 11 '16 at 22:45
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I wholly agree with Monica's excellent answer, but I would like to point out another phenomenon. Many non-Orthodox Jews go through a portion of their adult lives without giving much thought to religious practice. A traumatic event like the death of a parent can cause them to re-evaluate their lives.

They may see the end of the long chain of familial tradition just "dangling in the breeze" and ask themselves if they really should be the generation that it ends with. People at this point have to make a decision that they may have never considered from an adult point of view. It is one thing to jettison tradition at age thirteen. It is something very different to at age thirty. This can sometimes be the point when a person matures and comes to re-embrace their heritage. I know a few people who (re)turned to active involvement with Judaism only after a child's birth or a parent's death.

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This answer is solely based on my own personal experience with no Halachic references available.

When my sister died I took it very hard. Closure seemed impossible, because of a tangled web of circumstances beyond the scope of what I'm willing to discuss. I decided to say Kaddish for her every day to help me get through my grief. It was not to "honor her memory" or anything like that -- I'm certain she would not have wanted that (again, out of bounds). It was because I, in my grief, needed the support of a community, the support of the Jewish rituals, even if that community was just the minyan closest to my office among people who otherwise started out as strangers.

  • ... and yes there were multiple days where there were exactly 10 of us davening, I'm sure part of the reason they were so welcoming ;-) – arp Jan 10 '18 at 15:30
  • Welcoem to Mi Yodeya. Thanks for your answer. I certainly understand the concept of community. Of course, as a regular synagogue attender, myself, the focus of my question was wondering why so many people view the shul as a communal place attached to death rather than a continual communal place to celebrate life events. In my shul, once the yearly Kaddish period ends, we don't see these people, again. I hope that you would view the synagogue as a place to communally celebrate and share in common life events. (cont.) – DanF Jan 10 '18 at 16:05
  • Regardless, if you have time, perhaps, you could add to your answer, your own opinion as to why you, or others, don't attend synagogue for other events. I'm not attempting to chide or put you on the spot. I'm just trying to gain some knowledge on this phenomena. – DanF Jan 10 '18 at 16:07
  • These days I go to shul rarely, generally only for yontif or family events, and my strongest feeling is generally terrible stress over finding something appropriate to wear. – arp Jan 11 '18 at 8:03
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    Shul attendance should not be stressful. But, I think that much of the clothing stress comes from other shul attendants, and, perhaps, the rabbi. I've been to shuls where they welcome everyone who attends, even if they're wearing torn jeans and have a Mohawk hair style. Others, I've attended, I'm out of place if I don't wear a 3-piece suit. If you have just 1 shul to attend, it may be tough. If you have a choice, find the one where you're most comfortable. And, ignore other people's looks and comments. Usually, they're the ones with a problem. – DanF Jan 11 '18 at 15:00
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What Monica said in her answer is completely true. I would like to suggest another possible reason for this phenomenon. The reason is practicality. Orthodox Jews tend to live in clusters. Due to the diversity of "streams" of Orthodox Judaism (each one wanting to have their own shtieble), there are often clusters of many Orthodox synagogues within a small geographic area. On the other hand, since there is less diversity in Conservative modes of davening (AFAIK pretty much all Conservative shuls use the same nusach) and since many Conservative Jews are willing to drive to shul on Shabbat, Conservative shuls are generally fewer and larger. Fewer shuls usually means fewer minyanim which means fewer schedules to choose from. In an Orthodox community one can usually choose between (at least) a hashkama minyan, a slightly later minyan, and a late minyan for shacharit and similarly for the other daily services. Conservative communities likely do not offer this flexibility, so if the time doesn't work, people don't really make the effort to come to shul.

  • AFAIK, there are a few Conservative "nuschaot." All of the American ones (Sim Shalom, "Ḥadash", Bokser, Silverman) are based on Ashkenaz (source: my uncle is a Conservative rabbi). – Noach MiFrankfurt Jan 12 '16 at 3:11
  • The question wasn't why people don't come to shul but why death drives them to shul. – msh210 Jan 12 '16 at 3:50
  • @msh210 Follow up question: Should death drive them to shul on Shabbat?;) – Loewian Jan 12 '16 at 5:17
  • @Loewian I must be a bad person. I find your joke in bad taste and also very funny! – CJ Dennis Jan 12 '16 at 11:21
  • @msh210 I understand the question to be why they don't go to shul unless there is a death. Looking back, I think both questions are asked here. – Daniel Jan 12 '16 at 13:07

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